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Tag: cold frame

  • Garden Coach on Ways to Extend Your Vegetable Growing Season

    October 10, 2009
    Shiloh Thanking Bob for Building the Hoophouse

    Shiloh Thanking Bob for Building the Hoophouse

    It’s all the buzz right now — vegetable growing. Nearly all of my garden coaching clients are asking about them. And why not? This is the season when starts and seeds are appearing in nursery centers. It’s that time of year when gardeners are checking weather forecasts daily. The days are shorter and the warmth of summer is rapidly seeping away. Friends living in places like Colorado are already posting Facebook updates about picking up newspapers in the snow. Here in Seattle, the weather reporters warned that tonight we may have a mild freeze. This news means we will be switching out all remaining floating row cover in the garden for the more protective and heat building and heat retaining plastic hoop house covers.

    If you’re growing edibles in your winter garden and need help retaining heat, read on for ways to extend your growing season. And, don’t delay. If cold temps are trickling (or racing) into your garden, one freeze can do in your crops. Protect them early and eat well all winter.

    (Original post from March 27, 2009)

    Gardening magazines are featuring edible gardening. Heck, even the Obamas are jumping on the bandwagon this year. Edible gardening is nothing new to me. I grew up pulling weeds around squash, hoeing acres of rows for greenbeans, and putting up freezers full of all sorts of vegetables on our farm year-after-year. I come from a family of farm folk, and though I’ve chosen a suburban home life, I continue to raise food year-round in Seattle.

    Seattle is a great place to garden. Although the winter of 2008/09 brought us huge freezes that took out a lot of our consistent garden performers like Rosemary, Lavender and Flax, generally we have mild winters through which a wide array of plants will survive — including winter edibles. However, as great as gardening can be in Seattle, it does present some consistent challenges, particularly long, cool, wet springs.

    Even the most seasoned edible gardener is going to need to rethink tried and true methods they’ve used in other areas of the country. For instance, the beefsteak tomato that you’ve grown up loving in the midwest may do nothing for you here; if you’re lucky you might get some big green tomatoes from it. Peppers can be difficult to get going, especially if we have an extra cool gardening season. So, what can you do to get past these trouble spots and have success in your garden? Well, besides taking care to select edible starts and seeds known to perform well in your area, creating heat-traps in your garden may make all the difference!

    First Hoop House On Raised Bed

    First Hoop House On Raised Bed

    Maybe you don’t have room or budget for a greenhouse. Maybe you don’t have room for a coldframe. Instead, consider adding a simple hoophouse over your exisiting vegetable beds or plot. They are relatively inexpensive to build and can easily be dismantled when the growing season really kicks into high gear.

    For several years, I’ve maintained one small raised bed in my west-facing front garden. Seasonally, we pull out the PVC hoops, a sheet of plastic and some clips to help warm up seedlings or protect them from winter (or spring) snows. Through the winter, this small bed has kept a nice crop of various things going for us — ranging from chard to lettuce to parsley to kale. In the cool spring, the hoop house has later served as a protective incubator for tomatoes too delicate to face the range of temperatures swinging back and forth in the early (or late) Seattle spring.

    Closed Hoop House

    Closed Hoop House

    A hoop house is designed to trap heat in a specific garden bed area. Sunlight, even diffused sunlight, filters through the plastic sheeting, warming the air inside the tent as well as the soil and the plants growing inside. As plants transpire, the hoop house can also serve to trap the warmth and moisture released by the plants. This creates a great, inexpensive greenhouse in a specific area of your garden. But, be sure to check the soil and water regularly. Since you’re keeping the rain out and you’re heating up the environment, you’ll probably need to provide your bed with additional water regularly!

    In our garden this year, we added a second, taller hoop house to a new edible section of our garden. Unlike the hoops on our raised bed, this new system is installed directly into the earth using rebar to stabilize the hoops. So, in this case the PVC is attached over the rebar. Honestly, this isn’t my preferred method.  PVC can leach toxins. My preferred method is to attach brackets to the outside of a raised wooden bed so that the PVC slips into the brackets outside the growing area. Regardless, we’re trying both methods this year and doing our best to keep the PVC away from our soil. I have seen other materials used for hoops, but none are as cost effective as the PVC.

    Clipped Open Makes Working Inside Easy

    Clipped Open Makes Working Inside Easy

    Because I use clips that hold the plastic tight to the hoops, I have less trouble opening and closing the plastic to work in the beds. It also makes it easy to open the hoophouse during the day to let in natural rain and warmish breezes. Opening the house more and more as warm days approach is critical to hardening off the plants inside, getting them ready to withstand days and nights of unprotected exposure. As well, gentle breezes help deter many edible garden problems like bortrytis from killing seedlings. Too, gentle spring rains, direct from the sky, provides the type of water plants prefer over processed tap water.

    Back in January, I wrote about starting my seedlings indoors. Yesterday, almost two months to the day I started these seeds, I planted young starts into my hoop houses. These little kale, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, chard and snow peas have made the rounds in my home. Beginning in January they were seeded into sterile mixes and placed in a south-facing window with a furnace vent below them to provide air circulation and bottom heat. After germinating, they were moved into my cooler basement under shop lights where they would begin managing cooler temperatures but continue growing under supplemental light. Then, after transplanting them from sterile soil into larger pots with mixed worm castings and potting soil, the young plants moved into my coldframe to further harden off and grow for about another 3-4 weeks. Now, I have two hoop house beds filled with edibles that we’ll be harvesting in just a few weeks.

    Oh, and I should mention that we are already harvesting a few crops. Several rainbow chard, dinosaur kale and lettuce plants plugged right through the cold, hard winter. Each experienced a bit of dieback in the cold, but the plants themselves perservered and as an annoucement of spring, they’re already providing tasty morsels for our table. Curious what else is on the way? Well, tomato seedlings and beets are growing like mad under lights, and more seeding is coming soon. Here’s the full list of what we’re planning…well, it was the beginning list. We’ve added few new things since making this list at the beginning of the year.

    Odds are we’ll have more food than we know what to do with. Between the garden and the prepaid CSA program, I anticipate having a lot of food on hand by summer. I’ll be canning and freezing and eating! I also hope that some of what I grow will go to feed the hungry. Local food banks are happy to accept fresh foods from our gardens to help fill their distribution needs.

    Need help constructing a hoop house? Get in touch to schedule a gardening consultation to learn more about how to build a hoop house or cold frame of your very own!

  • Garden Coach on Planning the Fall Edible Garden in Mid-Summer

    August 08, 2009

    So often clients contact me around this time of year to ask if they can still seed edibles. Their busy schedules — whether due to work or kids or vacations or visiting family — get in the way and delay their time in the garden. I get it. Most aren’t like me. I’m in my garden at least a few times daily during summer, giving me the opportunity to monitor everything very closely. That doesn’t mean I get everything done, but I sure do get a handle on how quickly a weed can grow in a day! For my clients, however, their forays into the garden may happen once every couple days. So, they’re often struggling to know just how open a seeding window really remains.

    Closed Hoop House Keeps Brassicas Growing in Cool Weather

    Closed Hoop House Keeps Brassicas Growing in Cool Weather

    Whether you have time to seed more edibles really depends on where you live and what the edible requires to grow and set edible fruit (or root or leaves). Here in Seattle in mid-August, the window for seeding summer crops like cucumber and sweet corn has passed for the year. However, there is still a small window open to seed fall crops like cauliflower, chard, beets, broccoli and lettuce. And, actually, for some of these items, there are many weeks remaining. Too, if your edible gardening spaces include a greenhouse or a hoop house or even a cold frame, that seeding window may stay open even a bit longer. Too, crops like garlic don’t even get planted until October.

    The message is: if you’re in the Seattle area and you plan to grow fall edibles from seed (or even from start), don’t delay much longer. If you’ll be rotating out summer crops to make room for fall crops to harvest into early November, monitor those summer crops carefully, removing spent plants right away to deter disease and to make way to put in those fall kales, broccoli and turnips. If you don’t, that window will slam shut even as summer sun continues to warm warm our days and ripen our summer harvest. Of course, if you miss the chance to seed, local nurseries are stocking up fall edible starts right now. Beginning from starts may give you a little more wiggle room as the season wanes, but it is still critical the plants have time to get in the ground and begin to grow strong roots before the soil cools for the coming fall and winter.

    Need help? Get in touch to schedule a vegetable garden consultation session now!

  • Garden Construction Coach on How to Build a Cold Frame

    March 08, 2009

    In an attempt to prolong the growing season I built this cold frame. It is easy to build and not too expensive and is a good size to start plenty of plants as well as winter over a few.main_large

    The most expensive part of the cold frame is the glazing. For my project I just used acrylic glazing purchased at my local home store, but you could also use old windows, glass panels or polycarbonate greenhouse panels.

    Along with some kind of glazing, all you need for this cold frame is a sheet of 1/2″ plywood, 3 – 2x6x10s, 2 – 2x2x8s,   3″ corner brackets, 5″ T-hinges, plenty of 2 1/2″ #8 wood screws, and some 3/4″ #6 Round head screws.

    I started by cutting the plywood. You need two pieces that will form the sides. First,  I turned the plywood on it’s long edge and cut a section off that is 37 1/2″. This piece is plenty to get the two sides.

    Since the width of the cold frame is 37 1/2″, I measure up 11 1/2 inches on one side and then 23 inches on the other. I drew a line from each point to mark my angle cut. I did the same thing from the other side of the cut piece. Now you have your two sides of the frame.

    Next, I took the 2x6x10s and cut them in 1/2 giving me 6 5 foot pieces. 2 of these will be the front and 4 of them will be the back. I line up one of the 2×6 with the front or short end of a plywood side and screw them together with the #8 wood screws. Then I did the same on the other side. I repeat this stacking one more 2×6 in the front and a total of 4 for the back. Now we have the main box.

    To strengthen everything I cut two pieces of 2x2s that will run on the inside of the plywood at the base. Then cut another set that will run along the inside of the plywood on the top edge. These pieces not only strengthen things, but will also give the lids a place to rest on.

    Cold Frame Filled With Veggie Starts

    Cold Frame Filled With Veggie Starts

    With the main cold frame done, I cut the 2x2s for the two lids. Each lid is long enough to go from the top of the back wall to the front about 39 inches and is also about half the width of the cold frame, just under 30 inches. Each corner of the lid frame is connected with the 3 inch corner brackets.

    Next, I cut the acrylic glazing to size of the frame. I made it about 1/4 inch shorter and thiner then the frame. The pieces are attached with the #6 wood screws and it is best to pre drill the holes through the glazing. The Rounded head screws will hold the glazing now and snug to the frame.

    Next I attached the lids to the back with the T hinges. First i put both lids on the cold frame and positioned them between the sides so the could each open individually. then I attached the T-hinges to the back of the cold frame and then the back of the lid.

    The cold frame is basically done. The last thing I did was get some perforated straps from my local hardware store to help hold up the lids for venting. Attached a screw to the front of each lid in the center and allow it to stick out 3/8th of an inch. Then half way down the top front 2.x6 in line with the screw in the lid I attached a L-hook. Hook one end of the strap to the L-hook. To prop up the lid, open it and connect on hole on the other end of the strap around the screw in the lid.

    -Bob

    main_small side_open front_open

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